Stomach acid is an important component of the digestive system. It usually aids in the process of digestion. However, there are times that the body may produce it in excess leading to acid reflux. This condition is generally characterized by heartburn, a burning pain that occurs typically in the lower chest area.
You don’t need to get a prescription to treat acid reflux. There are several OTC medicines which are highly effective in managing this condition, and they include:
Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs)
This is a group of drugs that effectively reduce the production of stomach acid. PPIs have long-lasting as well as pronounced effects. For this reason, they are among the most popular OTC drugs for acid reflux. They are normally good for people that experience frequent heartburn.
PPIs irreversibly work by blocking an enzyme that is responsible for the production of stomach acid, i.e., the proton pump enzyme. It’s normally located in the parietal cells which are found in the stomach wall. It should be noted that ingesting a PPI once daily helps to significantly reduce acid reflux. According to medical research, it has been indicating that a PPI can reduce the effectiveness of the proton pumps by almost 70 percent. This means that only a small amount of stomach acid will be released to aid the digestion of food.
The best OTC medicine for acid reflux under the PPI category include:
- Prevacid 24HR
Note: while PPIs have an excellent safety profile with a high level of effectiveness, it’s important to exercise caution when using them. Some of their possible side effects include:
- Stomach upsets
- Nausea and vomiting
- Pain in the abdomen
- Increased risk of bone fracture and pneumonia
They are a group of drugs that reduce acid production. H2 blockers are also known as the histamine-H2 receptor antagonists. They are perfect for treating gastric ulcers such as the Zollinger-Ellison disease that normally causes excess production of acid in the stomach. Although they are effective, it takes long before the consumer can begin to feel their effects. Their effects normally last longer in the body. The effects of most H2 blockers normally take an hour or so to kick start, but they may last for up to 12 hours in the body.
Common OTC H2 Blockers include:
Ranitidine such as Zantac 150 and Tritec
Cimetidine like Tagamet HB
Nizatidine such as Axid and Axid AR.
Famotidine like Pepcid AC and Calmicid.
Note: like their counterparts, H2 Blockers are great for easing symptoms of acid reflux. But users need to exercise caution when using them. This is because they may result in side effects, such as:
- Nausea and vomiting
They are among the most common OTC drugs for acid reflux. Antacids are great for heartburns which are normally caused by acid reflux. Note that a person can end up experiencing heartburn when acid from the stomach reaches the esophagus. Most people go for antacids as their first OTC of choice to treat mild heartburn.
These drugs contain minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and aluminum. Besides those, they also have other ingredients which reduce stomach acidity. They are mostly sold in the form of dissolving or chewable tablets. It should be noted that the effectiveness of an antacid is usually in just a few minutes, so they provide immediate relief.
Common types of antacids sold over-the-counter include:
Note: these drugs are generally safe for use. However, some users may end up experiencing unwanted side effects when they use antacids frequently. They include constipation and diarrhea.
They are mainly medications such as Carafate and Pepto-Bismol. Although these suspensions are normally used to treat indigestion and other gastrointestinal problems, they are also great for easing heartburn symptoms. Carafate, for instance, works by coating the lining of the esophagus. However, it’s effective for mild heartburn because its effectiveness usually wears off very quickly. Once the coating inside the esophagus
comes off, then it loses its effectiveness.
Combination Acid-reducer or Antacid
Other than using one drug, it’s possible to use a combination of OTC drugs. For instance, Pepcid has the acid-neutralizing property of antacid. Besides that, it also has the acid-reducing effectiveness of H2 blockers. Alternatively, Zegerid is an OTC which combines the effectiveness of sodium bicarbonate and proton pump inhibitors.
Note: some people end up combining various OTC drugs for acid reflux. For instance, there are those whose PPIs alongside antacids and H2 blockers. However, this is a powerful combination that can cause serious side effects such as:
Caution When Using OTC Drugs for Acid Reflux
Acid reflux is self-diagnosable but only buy an OTC medicine if you know you have acid reflux. The main symptom of this condition is usually experiencing a burning pain in the chest area. This mostly occurs after eating. You will also notice that the burning pain may enhance when you lie down. Apart from that, other people may experience gastrointestinal symptoms such as:
An annoying discomfort in the upper abdomen
While taking any medication, it's also vital that you avoid wearing tight-fitting clothes. Additionally, chew food thoroughly and avoid lying down immediately after eating. Some of the lifestyle changes that you must implement include having a healthy BMI and avoid smoking.
The Bottom Line
Generally, OTC drugs are effective in easing the symptoms of acid reflux. However, their effectiveness varies from one person to another. This is because human beings have different metabolisms.
Additionally, the severity of acid reflux matters. In case you are suffering from minor discomfort, then you can use PPIs and H2 blockers are recommended. They help to provide short-term relief. Antacids are also useful if you want immediate relief for minor discomfort. It should be noted that as much as OTC drugs come in handy, they are not recommended for long-term use.
In case you are using any of the above-mentioned drugs for more than two weeks, you should discontinue use and seek immediate medical assistance. Severe symptoms of acid reflux that occur frequently could be signs of a severe underlying problem.
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